WILL POWER FOR WEIGHT LOSS AND OTHER GOALS: 3 STEPS TO JUMP START IT (ISSUE 49)
By Diane Gold
Developing will power for weight loss and discipline to delay and then replace our cravings with better habits spills over into other aspects of our lives. This article will discuss some corroborating research and some quick action steps to power it up.
By the 1980s, it was common knowledge that will power could be learned. However, when Mark Muraven was a PhD candidate in the mid-1990s, he questioned why will power doesn’t last and set out to look for a major determiner.
Using previous research, Mark created two groups of undergrad students from Case Western. After skipping a meal, they were asked to sit down. 2 bowls were placed in front of each participant: one with cookies, one with radishes. Students were each given an assignment: to eat only 1 particular food.
The researcher walked out for 5 minutes. The cookie eaters were happy and didn’t have to exert much control; the radish eaters had to exert will power not to eat the cookies. (Perception, which is usually true: cookies are more pleasurable than radishes.)
The researcher re-entered after 5 minutes and instructed the group it would take 15 minutes for their sensory memory of food to fade.
To pass the time, she asked them to do a “draw the geometric shape without lifting the pencil or re-tracing a line” puzzle. The cookie eaters spent more time on solving because they had not just exerted will power energy to resist cookies. The radish eaters gave up more quickly. The truth is there was no solve to the puzzle, but the activity showed what 200 other studies have shown. Mark puts it this way,
“Will power isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”
He also said,
”If you want to do something that requires will power—like going for a run after work—you have to conserve your will power muscle during the day.”
This sums up why diet plans and habit changing programs may work for some and not for others. Do you know any program that takes into account exhaustion level as a major factor? I don’t. In WarriorsOfWeight Consulting, we do. Also, in my upcoming work, How To Prevent Falling, we set exhaustion level as one of the factors to examine. I am breaking that down to exhaustion due to lack of sleep and exhaustion due to use of will power, since we know, now, that the amount we us our will power is a determining factor in our energy level.
Throughout our lives, we need will power in varying degrees. From the time we are young, we have to figure out how to get food without crying, comfortable sleep without being held or rocked and a shapely body without too much work.
Whether we are as disciplined as my loveable, meticulous accountant, Charlie, or are as free as the spirit of the Flower Child Generation, we always come across choices that involve our ability to manipulate our decision making process. I use the word “manipulate” because, often, we have to mold our decisions through debating what we want the outcome to be.
Will power comes from working through in a systematic approach, acting a certain way under certain rules in order to successfully accomplish a task. So how do we get will power? Are we born with it?
Will power is a developed skill that dissipates when we deplete our energy levels. For some people, it is easier to make changes than for others. For others, they require a huge amount of will power to accomplish their task. But, the whole idea of will power is to use our will in a way that is monumentally difficult for a future outcome (even if the future outcome is 1 minute from now), rather than to gratify ourselves immediately.
From our youth, we have to learn that we can’t always get what we want. Every experience from pre-school and onward teaches it to us in some way. Is there a curriculum for will power to make sure we develop what we need? No, but there should be. If people who overeat had studied will power, they’d have special skills that we all need to use on themselves. Imagine how many problems wouldn’t exist.
For the people who make change easily or with little effort, they may not be exercising will power. They are often coasting through the change process. This is great and they are fortunate, as long as they can make all decisions this way. Sometimes, though, when a life and death situation greets these people, it is their first adult opportunity to build up their will power. At some crucial time in all our lives, the instance to use will power will come up. It always does. It can be considered an opportunity.
For most of us, we begin to learn what will power is when our parents say no to our demands, and we have to slowly temper ourselves or stop crying from frustration or, in some cases, learn to tow the line to avoid physical punishment from our parents. Those parents who use a lot of corporal action on their young usually have issues with will power themselves.
When we learn to ride a bike, we want to give up, but we know the reward if we push through and continue is that we will get to ride down the street, feel the breeze, ride with friends, feel special and get praise from our riding teacher. So, we learn this self-temperance and improve on it throughout our lives. We will ourselves to continue to complete tasks.
If we have family support, this process may or may not be easier. Yes, we will learn to ride our bike with less frustration, but we may use less will because we have more nurturing and soothing from family. Everyone is different, so we never know which combination of factors areis going to produce what reactions in us. We are all complex.
When we fail a test at school that we have studied hard for, we have to think about how important graduation is, or how important not disappointing a love one is, or how much we want to develop our skills to be able to create a great legacy, so that we don’t cater to the momentary idea of quitting. Whatever our reason, our reaction to failing the test is based upon our will to excel. The less the family unit is intact, the harder it will be to be positive; but the more will power will be created in the people who push through, even without being recognized and hugged for their efforts.
So how do we learn WILL POWER?
ACTION STEPS EXTRAORDINAIRES
The following action steps can be done in 1 minute increments of work. That way, for those of us who get freaked out with frustration quickly, there are only 60 seconds to endure. After several sets of 60 seconds, these steps are not so brutal to do. In other words, once we take an action a few time, it starts to become a new routine or habit that is familiar. We have less resistance to it.
1) For the next 30 days (or for a week, if 30 days is too long), leave 1 bite of the favorite selection of food on every plate every time you eat. This will become a habit, and the feeling of disappointment in having to leave food on the plate will become pride in accomplishment. It is better to waste this morsel of food than to overeat regularly.
2) Buy 4 cases of bottled water, 16 ounce bottles. (The waste involved in purchasing manufactured plastic is minor if this one act helps you to help change. Do not throw the bottles out. You will refill them in the future.) Always take 3 with you in case you have 3 food cravings until you get home. At the first twinge of food craving, even if it is true hunger, drink 1 bottle. This should fill you and change the craving. It will also begin the habit of using water to refresh yourself. A new and healthy habit.
3) For the next 30 days (or for a week, if 30 days is too long), as soon as you feel a food craving, go to the rest room or a park bench where you may have some privacy. With palms on the kidneys, make a hula hoop motion with the waist for 30 rotations. This should reduce your craving as well as maximize the flexibility of the waist which is always good for health and digestion. If you don’t feel any cravings during the day, make it a point to do this exercise anyway, once a day for the 30 days or as a general routine after that.
Will power can be learned, increased, tempered, fueled, created and regenerated. From the very first time we don’t get what we want, it starts to develop and continues to do so as long as we let it. When we get into a rut and need to change a habit or need to deploy adrenaline to save ourselves or another; we use our will power.
The 3 simple action steps, above, can change us. They will build layer after layer of comfortable control that we can exercise “at will.” Taking repetitive action steps toward a goal produces the results we want. We just have to stick it out using the will power muscle.
Once we have used these techniques for 30 days, our will power, from disciplining ourselves, will be stronger than before, similar to a body muscle that has repeated an exercise routine for 30 days.
We should continue using the steps for another 30 days. At the end of the second 30 days, we should make these steps part of our daily routine. Not eating beyond capacity is always good; drinking lots of water is always good and being ahead of our cravings through exercise is always the way.
May our will power for weight loss and any other goal we have soar!
It is recommended not to stop these 3 steps so that you get some experience with understanding when your cravings increase and decrease and how much will power you have over them.
I would like to acknowledge Charles Duhigg and his book, The Power Of Habit for some of the research gathering used in this article.
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DIANE GOLD, AUTHOR
Diane Gold, Founder of Warriors of Weight, Moms For Healthy Daughters, is a mentor in tai chi, kung fu and meditation, a music, fitness and stress expert and a dedicated mom.
She knows ultimate will power is only an instant away. Diane says,
“One of the things I have learned is that we can muster up the strength to achieve whatever we want to achieve. The ability to do so is in our development of will power.
“We think we can’t go on, but we can, for just another minute. And, very often, all we need is that 1 more minute to achieve our weight loss goal, to complete an exam, to find our way when we are lost, to create a masterpiece. By following the 3 easy steps, I am confident that you can jump start your will power so that you will feel that strength for yourself and be able to reproduce it at will. Let’s begin now. ”
For help, check out 1-Step Consulting.
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